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    Opposition Marchers Should Change Their Strategy

    Opposition Marchers Should Change Their Strategy / Ivan Garcia
    Posted on January 17, 2016

    Ivan Garcia, 13 January 2016 — There were more than seven thousand
    arrests of dissidents in 2015, with most detentions lasting several
    hours. Beatings, harassment, acts of repudiation and degrading treatment
    by police are common in Cuba. Political reforms are not part of General
    Raúl Castro’s agenda.

    Despite the repression in Havana there is one city block where democracy
    is respected. It was not a gift from the regime. It was a victory
    achieved by the Ladies in White in the spring of 2010. In this area you
    can protest and march without being brutally assaulted.

    It is located in the Miramar district in the western part of the city. A
    procession takes place from Fifth Avenue and 26th Street, where St. Rita
    of Casia Church is located, to a park located on Fifth Avenue between
    22nd and 24th streets, a spot formerly known as Prado Park in honor of
    the Peruvian dignitary Mariano Ignacio Prado and now known as Mahatma
    Gandhi Park.

    After the march a brawl breaks out. Every Sunday at eleven o’clock for
    eight months State Security has been mounting an intense sting operation
    in the streets adjoining Fifth Avenue.

    Dozens of boorish officers on Suzuki motorcycles from a squad known as
    Section 21 — a group conditioned to strike first and ask questions later
    — wait for the demonstrators at intersections or at a bus stop located
    at 28th Street and Third Avenue.

    Every Sunday three or four buses are commandeered from the decrepit
    public transport system to forcibly transfer the Ladies in White and
    other dissidents to jail. A phalanx of police cars, an ambulance and
    cameramen from special services, who are there to film the uproar, round
    out the scene.

    Among those mobilized are civilians from the so-called Rapid Response
    Brigade, a varied battalion made up of retired veterans, members of the
    Committees for the Defense of the Revolution and guys inclined towards
    criminal behavior.

    It is not unusual for the regime to employ an enraged mob to deal with
    what it considers to be “provocations.” The atmosphere on Sundays in
    this peaceful neighborhood in Miramar is similar to the chaos caused by
    radical baton-wielding hooligans at soccer matches in Argentina.

    The basest instincts come into play. Sticks, metal rods and stones are
    used to assault compatriots simply because they think differently. The
    methods are violence, humiliation and verbal lynching. The festival of
    derision is repeated on subsequent Sundays.

    The slogans of these paramilitary groups should strike a palpable fear
    in anyone who hears them. “Machete them; there aren’t many,” goes one.
    “Ready, aim, fire” and “mercenaries” are some of the other choruses
    sprinkled with crude expletives. You can disagree with a political
    organization’s stategy, but coarseness and intimidation should not be
    the solution.

    Civilized governments put a premium on dialogue and respect. Clearly
    that is not the case here. On a list published by Reporters Without
    Borders, the island ranks 169th out of 180 countries in terms of press
    freedom.

    Cuba is the only country in the Western world where all political
    parties, other than the Communist party, are prohibited. And when it
    comes to human rights, the regime approves only of those by which it abides.

    For the military-run government human rights consist of universal public
    health and eduction, and access to culture and sports. No one would
    argue that these are not inalienable rights.

    But lawful political participation, freedom of expression and freedom of
    association are rights too. It is a question of whether one perceives
    the glass as being half full or half empty.

    As justification, Castro supporters claim to be under siege, stalked by
    the United States and choked off by an economic embargo. I don’t buy it.

    The conduct of the rulers and their henchmen, handing out punches and
    imprisoning dissidents, is the result of a genetically predisposed
    hostility towards democracy. Transparency, dialogue and respect for
    differences are not part of the political strategies of the Castro
    dictatorship.

    Nearly forty Sundays after the Ladies in White and the Forum for Rights
    and Liberties — headed respectively by Berta Soler and Antonio Rodiles —
    began their marches and petitions, the regime’s stance remains unchanged.

    The dissident community itself is divided over how to proceed. Some
    believe that Soler and Rodiles should not be directly challenging the
    irrational ferocity of the special services and so they do not join in.

    The international press barely covers the Sunday beatings and the
    Western democratic community is concerned with issues that it considers
    more important. At best, a spokesperson for the White House or the State
    Department might issue an inconsequential press release.

    The problem is not whether the demands by the Ladies or the Forum are
    reasonable or excessive. They have a right to peacefully protest without
    being harassed, and not just in a “democratic block” on Fifth Avenue in
    Miramar.

    In my opinion, the dissident movement should consider other strategies.
    The news media loses interest when routine repression begins to seem
    trivial.

    Unfortunately, the world of mass communication is now driven by excess.
    For example, if a headline appears in a Swiss newspaper, it is because a
    dictator or mafia chieftain has opened accounts in the country’s banks,
    not because its democratic system functions like a Swiss watch.

    If there are no dead or wounded, or if an event involves fewer than ten
    thousand people, the world’s leading broadcasters and major news
    organizations will continue to ignore attacks against a hundred or so
    women and men marching peacefully in protest along a stretch of Fifth
    Avenue to Gandhi Park.

    Rather than increasing the number of participants in their marches, the
    Ladies in White and the Forum for Liberties should take up causes of a
    populist nature about issues that affect everyone, such as demanding
    food at reasonable prices and reducing prices in hard currency stores.

    Or improving the quality of life, constructing and repairing housing,
    finding a solution for the more than 130,000 flood victims who now live
    in makeshift shelters and guaranteeing an efficient public transport system.

    Or raising laughably low wages, unifying the dual currency system,
    initiating a national debate on unchecked migration; launching a
    campaign against domestic and gender violence, and demanding the repeal
    of Law 217, which prevents our compatriots from other provinces from
    moving to Havana.

    Petitioning the government to include Cubans under the new Foreign
    Investment Law and urging it to draft a law allowing Cubans living
    overseas to participate in national political life. Also, reducing taxes
    on private businesses, among other concessions.

    The list goes on. The Ladies in White could be the spokesperson for
    those citizens who are now sitting on the sidelines. Changing the focus
    of their petitions could change the rules of the game.

    What would be the government’s reaction? Presumably another spiral of
    violence. But with broader social demands they would gain supporters
    among Cubans who only have black coffee for breakfast.

    Source: Opposition Marchers Should Change Their Strategy / Ivan Garcia |
    Translating Cuba –
    translatingcuba.com/opposition-marchers-should-change-their-strategy-ivan-garcia/

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